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Consider mediation of child custody disputes - part 1

Many people have been shocked by the acrimony in the recent child custody dispute between Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry and her ex-boyfriend, Canadian model and restaurateur Gabriel Aubry. The pair share a two-year-old daughter. Berry has made veiled accusations that the child is not safe in the care of her father, while Aubry has indicated that Berry is a part-time parent.

Although far more public than the average child custody battle, unfortunately, the story really isn't all that unusual. Whether they are in the midst of a divorce or unmarried, fathers and mothers often disagree about parenting styles. The issues that resulted in the break-up of the relationship frequently overflow into the long-term cooperation required for shared parenting.

Common or not, child custody disputes are stressful, emotional and expensive for parents, and they can be traumatic for children. The vast majority of parents truly care about the best interest of their child or children and don't want to become embroiled in an acrimonious custody battle.

Is there an amicable path to resolution of a disagreement about child custody or visitation? For many people, the answer is yes -- and more and more parents are taking advantage of family law mediation to help them walk that path.

In this two-part series, we will discuss the benefits family law and divorce mediation can offer as parents deal with the emotional decisions involved in child custody.

Exaggerated accusations, denied visitation, litigation mindset can hurt children

While the details of the Berry-Aubry dispute remain largely private, it appears that both parents are currently seeking sole custody with limited visitation by the other. No one outside that process can know the truth of Berry's and Aubry's allegations, but it is not unusual for people in volatile child custody disputes to make false or exaggerated claims of poor parenting.

An article appeared in the Huffington Post recently, written by a New York family mediator named Abby Tolchinsky. Tolchinsky sees the Berry-Aubry dispute as an example of the bad things that can happen in a drawn-out child custody battle -- which illuminates why she is dedicated to alternative dispute resolution.

"If there's one interest over which a man and woman often can agree, it's that they really truly do want their kids to come away as unscathed as possible," she says. Many divorcing couples and unmarried parents hope to remain friends as they share joint custody and look forward to family activities like graduations, weddings and grandchildren. "'At least we want to be able to look each other in the eye and be civilized,'" they explain," says Tolchinsky.

Family law mediation can be used in child custody disputes involving either divorce or paternity to help parents meet that goal. The secret is not better lawyers or more insightful parents, say advocates. The secret is using a better process.

In the second part of this series, we will discuss the specifics of a typical family law mediation process. Visit this blog again to learn more, or subscribe to our RSS feed to receive automatic updates.

Source: The Huffington Post, "Kids in the Middle," Abby Tolchinsky, February 8, 2011

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